Exclusive: How The Yes Men duped media into hyping NYT spoof
Among The Yes Men’s greatest triumphs was releasing and circulating tens of thousands of copies of a futuristic New York Times edition that portrayed a utopian vision of the United States — one where single-payer health care passed through Congress and big oil was forced to fund climate change projects.
But if you watched the television news reports, you’d have believed over a million people all over America got their hands on it.
In a clip cut from their latest film The Yes Men Fix The World — and provided exclusively to Raw Story — the two anti-globalization activists Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum reveal how they duped mainstream media into hyping the hoax.
Apparently, providing one British newspaper with a nugget of terribly exaggerated information did the trick.
The fictional Times was given out to 80,000 people in Manhattan and Los Angeles just one week after Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008. Dated July 4, 2009 — and fully uploaded on a Web site uncannily mimicking the newspaper’s style and format — its feature story announced the end of the Iraq war.
In other articles, President Bush was indicted for treason, the PATRIOT Act was repealed, a “maximum wage” was implemented and students could attend public universities free of charge.
Yes Men spokesman Mordechai Tuchesman, asked by the UK Guardian how many copies of the paper were distributed, responded with a smile: “1.2 million, all over the United States in 12 major metropolitan cities.”
When the reporter probed as to whether it was really greater than 100,000, a sly Tuchesman covered up by claiming that that figure was “just in New York alone.”
Later that night, CNN’s Dana Millbank reported that “The Yes Men distributed more than a million fake copies of the Times nationwide today.”
“More than a million!” exclaimed an anchor on New York’s CW11 news station. “A million fake copies of the New York Times landed in the hands of readers today.”
The story was also picked up by MSNBC and several foreign media outlets, which emphasized the treason charges against Bush. “The media ate it up,” boasted The Yes Men in the clip, having successfully pulled a prank within a prank.
Tucked inside the paper’s op-ed pages was a self-deprecating farewell from Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who declared that “I have no business holding a pen, at least with intent to write,” after having “been so completely and fundamentally wrong” in supporting the invasion of Iraq.
Loved by some and scorned by others, The Yes Men proudly defended their use of lies and deception to expose corporate mischief, in an interview with Raw Story. Bonanno, however, called conservatives James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart “sad and pathetic” for using similar tactics to target the community activist group ACORN.
Their second of two movies, out on DVD April 1, documents the exhilarated and amused reactions of dozens of New Yorkers as they glance through the fake Times copy.
This video is from The Yes Men, uploaded March 31, 2010.